Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anti-Bullying Thoughts

It seems like my kids, especially my 7th grader, is hearing a lot about bullying this year.  A lot.  They've had a speaker come to school.  They've taken a survey.  In fact, I just today finished giving that survey to our district's 3rd through 6th graders.  I was pleased that the students seemed to take it seriously and think about the questions.  There didn't seem to be any silliness over it. My son has become a little bit weary of it all, to tell you the truth.  The anti-bullying message is being hammered home.  So let's all agree, here and now, that bullying is bad.  According to the survey I've read about 25 times now, bullying is when a student or several students make mean or hurtful comments, leave someone out of things on purpose, or physically hurt someone or lock him or her inside a room.  It is not bullying when it is done in a friendly or playful way.  It also has to happen more than just once.  It's also not considered bullying when two students of about equal strength or power argue or fight.  At least for the purpose of the survey I gave.  When I personally think about bullying I tend to think first about the physical aspect.  Like in all those movies or after-school specials with the big kid taking the littler kid's lunch money or shoving him in a locker.  But it encompasses more than that.  Teasing can be really ruthless.  Some teasing can really be merciless. And I totally know that with social media, teasing and taunting has reached a whole new dimension.  I am in complete agreement that it needs to be addressed.  I have been so thankful that my kids haven't really had to deal with this on a personal level. Thinking about my own personal experience in elementary school, I could say that by definition I was "bullied".  I remember being left out of things and told I couldn't play.  I remember being laughed at and always being afraid that I would do something that would make others laugh at me.  I remember a boy on the bus who would goose me as I walked by and always sit right behind me no matter where I sat.  I was the first one on and he was the second and no matter what seat I sat in he always sat in the seat right behind me.  Until I told the driver and then he had to sit somewhere else.  I guess when I was a kid I would not have used the word bullying to describe my experience.  The thing is, is that we can talk and talk about bullying.  And we can tell the bullies to stop.  But I think we have to give the victims of bullies tools of their own to deal with it as well.  It seems like so much of the time we tell students to tell an adult.  Tell someone.  But the someone that they tell has to do something or it's really quite pointless isn't it?  Just the act of telling an adult isn't going to make it stop.  Sometimes telling just makes the victim a tattle-tale.  I do think teachers and adults need to pay attention to what's going on in the casual conversations that go on with their students.  And if they hear something that sounds mean or ugly or threatening they need to call it out.  I don't think that anyone deserves to be bullied.  It's awful, horrible, disgusting, ugly, and terrible.  Right? Right.  A thousand percent.  In no way am I saying it's ever even a little bit acceptable.  That being said...
    There are always going to be jerks in the world.  Mean girls.  People who don't know how to be nice.  People who are snarky, sarcastic, and crass. Part of raising our kids needs to be teaching them how to deal with those people.  There may be no magic intervention or discussion that changes the mean person.  I was a really sensitive child.  (Sometimes I still deal with those super sensitive emotions).  I would pick up on vibes when I felt that people weren't being very nice.  Even if it wasn't overt.  It did not take much for me to feel embarrassed.  At all. Pretty much unless the attention was really sweet and positive, there was the potential for me to take it negatively.  I think that made me a bit of a target.  So then I actually did get the teasing and the laughing because it was just so easy for them to do those things.  It's a hard lesson for kids to understand that not everyone will be a best friend and that sometimes people will say things that hurt their feelings.  If we don't encourage strong backbones in our kids, then that not-so-nice comment can be really overwhelming.  They don't know what to do with it.  It feels huge.  Bigger than it needs to be.  We need to give kids an inner dialogue that they can have with themselves to help them not be dragged down with the crap.  I've been trying to help my daughter think about water off a duck's back.  Just let it roll right off.  I've also shared with her something I read somewhere about a physical way to help guard her heart.  That when the mean thing or accusation is said, hold your hand over your heart to make a physical guarding motion.  Then take your hand way, look at it, think about what was said. If there is any truth to it at all, take that part and decide whether you need to make any personal changes.  Whatever part of it is not truth, throw it away (or hand it to Jesus which is a way cool solution).  Part of being a victim is feeling powerless.  Let's help our kids take the power away from the mean people, and give it them to navigate through.
So anti-bullying messages are great!  But let's also start giving some empowerment messages.

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